In the last couple of weeks alone, several people close to me have compared one’s first year out of college with the fledging years of early retirement. Both life moments are similar in a lot of ways: you go from daily routines, in which you’re bombarded by other people doing the same thing as you, to days where you have to merely fill in the hours between fits of sleep and search for some greater meaning. Such is the turnover fastening of our mortal coil.
There’s a great joke that I often think about. It’s a long one, so bear with me. It goes something like this: in a several day stretch, God “creates” the cow, the dog, the monkey, and the human. Each animal is discussing its time on Earth with the religious figure: the cow is given a 50 year life span of working hard under the hot sun, but negotiates it down to just 20 years, gives 30 back to God; the dog is given a 20 year life span of sitting on the porch and barking at passersby, but negotiates to cut it in half, keeps 10 and gives 10 years back to God; the monkey is also given a 20 year life, to mindlessly entertain people and act generally like a buffoon (excuse me, baboon), but isn’t satisfied with this so it also bisects the time and gives the remaining 10 years back to God. Things get interesting when the human is “created on the fourth day”. It is told to eat, sleep, play, and enjoy life—for 20 years. Thinking “hey, this is a great deal”, the human asks for the 30 years from the cow, and the remaining 10 years from both the dog and the monkey. And that, folks, is why we eat, sleep, play, and enjoy life for the first 20 years; toil under the sun, work, for the next 30 years; conduct mindless baboonery in our fifties; and in our sixties and seventies, bark at people merely for being there.
Ahhhh, humor. You were always too on-point for your own good.
All biblical joking (a great name for a Catholic stand-up special) aside, this moment in a person’s life is statistically one of the most depressive. According to a recent study out of Georgetown University, only a third of people in their early twenties have full time jobs (read more here)—a level unseen since the early 70s. The power of a college degree is not at all what it used to be, and with a transforming job market in major US cities, the college education system doesn’t really seem to be keeping up. People are leaving the workforce well beyond the age of 65, and the age at which young workers hit the median wage has risen from 26 to 30. So jobs require more training than they did decades ago, and workers in turn have to delay retirement. Education institutions aren’t preparing students for a smooth transition into the workforce. The whole system is out of sync.
My current count is 173 days since receiving that piece of paper. And, more than ever, I’ve felt a vast disconnect with the world around me. From the daily scaffolding, holding up some semblance of an academic life and social life; to splinters and tumbling and a swirling pile of uncertainty. It’s really a jarring feeling, the uncertainty. From the routine and the daily barrage of faces in college or high school or middle school, etc. For the first time, I’m floating.
And yet, there’s pressure to find a job—any job. And yet, I lack qualifications for most of them. A Catch-22 for the Modern Generation. I’ve looked into all kinds of industries (music, VR/AR, journalism, social justice, video games
, aerospace), but each one represents a mountain I have to climb—with no ice axe, no snowshoes, no protective eyewear—so that I’m constantly staring at my feet, blinded, unable to see five feet in front of me if I tried.
All I want is to be a baboon: to return to those days of great security, when the façade of seriousness can drop and you can almost act like a child again. When you can wake up in the morning, take a bus to somewhere you know well enough, stroll into a bougey and too well-lit office in a retired industrial building, and mindlessly drone on at your desk job or sit on the phone or stare at a screen and see the same faces you see every day. When you can take employees to art museums, concerts, parades, and have fun in the name of creativity. This is the life of the baboon: existing in a sandbox routine with all you need mastered; able to autopilot the plane and serve cocktails at the same time.
And here I find myself, at an impasse of creativity. Skills and abilities undiscovered. I feel like a bottle of imagination aging in a cellar somewhere, roped up in dust and cobwebs. I want higher stakes, something to apply myself too. After all, we’re just improvising anyway.